You’ve been through a lot together, but you’re aware your relationship isn’t as strong as it used to be. Jackie Anderson considers the importance of friends

Maintenance is a loaded word for me. As I juggle the demands of a busy household, and groan under the weight of a never ending to-do list, I sometimes shudder at the thought of what else in my life might be in need of a crisis MOT? If it’s not the car (and rusting wheel arches which I’m trying to ignore), or the dishwasher making crunching noises, then it will be the back door paintwork, scraped bare by my dogs or the chaotically growing wilderness in one corner of the garden . . .

Which reminds me that, actually, everything in my life needs to be maintained! “Prevention is better than cure” is never more true in health, as I warily observe my body losing its battle against time and gravity. And yet I have come to realise that my motivation to ‘maintain’ things, is often linked to the value I place on them. The more I care about something, the more I attempt to look after it.

But does such diligence extend to my friendships? How about that priceless group of ‘gals’ who journey through life with me, that magnificent arc of sisterhood which forms my social core and female DNA?

Yet here’s the thing: friendships can be messy, unpredictable, complicated and fragile – and never more so than with us women! They truly do need maintenance, both high and low. Old wounds and misunderstandings can fester on the backburner for years. Unforgiveness, sometimes lying dormant under the surface, becomes like a chronic bindweed, strangling growth and hiding the flower. Without regular ‘check-ups’, tender care and weeding, these friendships will die!

Yet friends are also wonderful, life-enriching and, truth be told, absolutely necessary. Some of us slide easily into friendships, our personalities dictating our comfort zone, habits etched way back in nursery school, where some of us gregariously gathered friends like conkers, while others preferred to play quietly in pairs. The passage of seasons is as true in friendship as in nature. Circumstance and distance often dictate which different people enter and exit our lives’ stage, often unexpectedly and without warning.

It was one Thursday night that it really hit me. My long-suffering and overstretched husband and I had been trying to inject a ‘date’ night into our bulging diary and our 26-year marriage in order to run away from our many teenagers for two hours (top tip: just DO it, it’s worth every penny and now carved in stone).

It did not escape our notice that week after week, wherever we went, tables of ‘women’ far outnumbered the couples or dare I say – men! Sound familiar? Because women need women! I know, a kind of obvious statement to read in a women’s magazine, but I’d never spotted it before.

So I got to thinking about my own girlfriends: their value and significance in my life, their God given-ness, their beauty, their richness, their humour, and how incredibly blessed I am to have them in my life. How much poorer my life would be without them, and how vital it is that I cherish – and ‘maintain’ them.

Life is short and our passage on earth will only be shared by a certain number of others. As loneliness scourges our society with its icy fingers and increasing marginalisation, Jesus gives us a model of perfect friendship. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). He is the ultimate friend. No one else will ever love us like he does. And so he carefully orchestrates and chooses our human friends for us, because he knows we need them. What a blessing! And he gives them to us in the form of a seed. But how we care for that seed is up to us.

So after I finish writing this article, I think it is high time to go and book my own ‘Girls’ Night Out’! And maybe I will write that long overdue note to an old school friend, recently divorced and struggling. I might pick up the phone to an elderly relative who hasn’t heard from me for months, or e-mail a friend abroad. I could have that cup of coffee with someone I have forgotten for too long, so that I can seal any fissures before they develop into a crack. Most of all, I must take a moment to stop and be still, to ask God to whisper someone’s name into my heart who needs me just now.

As we look forward to the spring, what better time to bring some sunshine and hope? I’ve decided to try to give more of my time to the things that matter most and – who knows? – it may even inspire me to start the mending!